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A Workers’ Rights Board Hearing on July 27, 2017 highlighted wage theft and other exploitation experienced by immigrant wood framer carpenters in Portland’s construction industry. Over 100 people came out to the hearing, hosted by Portland Jobs with Justice and the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, to hear testimony from wage theft experts, carpenters, and labor leaders about the poor working conditions immigrant carpenters face and what can be done about it.

“One of the most difficult things was to get paid, especially when construction slowed down,” says Antonio Pulido through an interpreter to a panel of four Workers’ Rights Board members that included Mary King, Economics Professor Emerita, PSU; Oregon House Representative Diego Hernandez; Father Jack Mosbrucker, retired priest from St. Therese Catholic Church; and community organizer Ranfis Villatoro.

Immigrant wood framers talk about wage theft and lack of safety in Portland’s construction industry.

Workers not being paid what they are owed seems to be a serious problem in the Portland area. Over the past five years BOLI has received 148 prevailing-wage complaints and claims worth $1.12 million in Multnomah County alone, and the problem is particularly acute among immigrant workers where language barriers often prevent them from fully understanding the terms of their employment, and who employers feel they can more easily take advantage of.

The panel and the audience heard about not getting paid for overtime and being shorted on paychecks, safety hazards, and lack of adequate training. They also learned from Ben Basom, an organizer with Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, about how Community Benefits Agreements are “maybe the best way to ensure immigrant workers, and indeed all workers, are treated fairly on these big construction projects that are funded in part by the City of Portland and Prosper Portland.”

After an hour and half of testimony and questions the Workers’ Rights Board panel came back with a series of recommendations that include requiring all construction projects in Portland and Multnomah County that use any public funding to operate with a Community Benefits Agreement ensuring that women, people of color, and other marginalized groups will be well represented among employees and contractors.

“Pilot efforts on two Portland Water Bureau construction projects, working with a modified version of the City’s 2012 Community Benefits Agreement, achieved exceptional levels of participation of women and people of color as apprentices, skilled workers and contractors.  The key was dedicated funding – 1% of ‘hard construction costs’ – for compliance, training, recruitment and technical assistance. Providing support for contractors and demanding accountability are both absolutely critical, and best accomplished with the involvement of community organizations, including the unions,” said Mary King, Economics Professor Emerita, PSU and Chair of the Workers Rights Board panel. “Without support, proper oversight and consequences for failing to meet the standards of a Community Benefits Agreement, nothing changes despite decades of effort.”

The Workers’ Rights Board intends to take the recommendations to city and county leaders.

The full text of the recommendations made by the Workers’ Rights Board can be viewed at:

Results of Community Benefits Agreement Pilot Projects can be viewed at:

Video of worker stories:

Portland Jobs With Justice is a coalition of over 100 labor unions, community, faith, and student organizations that fight for economic, racial, gender, and immigrant justice.

The Workers’ Rights Board, a project of Portland Jobs with Justice, has been convened to help build support in the community for workers seeking to improve their working conditions.

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